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FDA to Place New Limits on Prescriptions of Narcotics

Many doctors may lose their ability to prescribe 24 popular narcotics as part of a new effort to reduce the deaths and injuries that result from these medicines’ inappropriate use, federal drug officials announced Monday.

A new control program will result in further restrictions on the prescribing, dispensing and distribution of extended-release opioids like OxyContin, fentanyl patches, methadone tablets and some morphine tablets.

These products are classified as Schedule II narcotics and already are restricted according to rules jointly administered by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency. But the current restrictions have failed to “fully meet the goals we want to achieve,” said Dr. John K. Jenkins, director of the FDA’s new drug center.

“What we’re talking about is putting in place a program to try to ensure that physicians prescribing these products are properly trained in their safe use, and that only those physicians are prescribing those products,” Jenkins said in a news conference on Monday. “This is going to be a massive program.”

Hundreds of patients die and thousands are injured every year in the United States because they were inappropriately prescribed drugs like OxyContin or Duragesic, or they took the medicines when they should not have or in ways that made the drugs dangerous. The agency has issued increasingly urgent warnings about the risks, but the toll has only worsened in recent years.

Google Taking a Step into Power Metering

Google will announce its entry Tuesday into the small but growing business of “smart grid,” digital technologies that seek to both keep the electrical system on an even keel and reduce electrical energy consumption.

Google is one of a number of companies devising ways to control the demand for electric power as an alternative to building more power plants. The company has developed a free Web service called PowerMeter that consumers can use to track energy use in their house or business as it is consumed.

Google is counting on others to build devices to feed data into PowerMeter technology. While it hopes to begin introducing the service in the next few months, it has not yet lined up hardware manufacturers.

“We can’t build this product all by ourselves,” said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company’s corporate philanthropy arm. “We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions.”

“Smart grid” is the new buzz phrase in the electric business, encompassing a variety of approaches that involve more communication between utility operators and components of the grid, including transformers, power lines, and even home appliances like dishwashers.

Dragons Are Kept at Bay in China, And Riot Ensues

Social unrest is not uncommon across the Chinese hinterland. There were an estimated 120,000 strikes, protests or riots last year, most of them incited by popular dissatisfaction over government corruption, the illegal confiscation of land or workers agitating for unpaid wages.

But a clash between the police and residents in rural Guizhou province on Sunday may be the first disturbance inspired by a dragon dance, or at least a thwarted one.

According to officials and residents in Dejiang, at least a dozen people were injured during a riot that began when the police tried to stop the traditional lunar new year procession from winding through the city’s narrow streets. At one point, soldiers were called in to quell the disturbance. Three of the injured were police officers, officials said.

The dragon dance, performed by a troupe of volunteers who wear segments of the beast, is believed to bring good luck, prosperity and nourishing rains. It is often a chaotic affair punctuated by the clanging of cymbals, the banging of drums and the deafening crackle of firecrackers.

Dejiang’s dragon dances, which draw more than 100,000 people, are so beloved that the provincial government recently designated the festival a “cultural treasure.”

Executives at Barclays Defend Staff Bonuses

Top managers at Barclays on Monday defended the payment of bonuses to staff members and warned that escalation of a public dispute between lawmakers and financial executives could harm the industry.

Robert Diamond Jr., Barclays’ president and head of its investment banking business, said he still believed in bonuses as a way to provide incentives to staff members.

“Incentive compensation is important, and we look forward to a public debate,” Diamond said on the sidelines of the bank’s news conference to present its annual earnings in London.

Marcus Agius, the chairman, said the controversy about bankers’ bonuses was “not helpful” because it was “very emotional.”

The British banking sector is facing an outcry against bonuses paid to bankers while shareholders watched the value of their investments diminish rapidly last year. There is also growing anger about bonuses being awarded at Royal Bank of Scotland, even though the bank has received billions of pounds from the government to withstand the financial crisis.

John Prescott, a former deputy prime minister, said such payments would be “a reversal of Robin Hood — rob the poor to pay the rich.”